Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review: 'The Elixir of Love' at the King's Head Theatre, 30th September 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

I had a bad case of the Monday blues yesterday. I got soaked cycling to work in the rain and soaked cycling home afterwards. So when it came time to leave my warm house to head up to the King's Head Theatre in the rain, I was downright miserable. By the time I got there (you guessed it, soaked), I was sullen and glum - and wishing I was wrapped up in a blanket at home watching Netflix and eating pizza.

But then Opera’r Ddraig's The Elixir of Love began, and all that damp misery immediately washed away. From minute one I had a big smile on my face that persisted throughout the show (and through most of the still wet ride home).

Adapted from Donizetti's 1832 opera L'elisir d'amore, Opera’r Ddraig swaps the Basque village setting for Barry Island, South Wales in 1982 - and retranslates the work to fit the South Walian dialect. It's a smart decision - with hilarious friction generated from the highfalutin' poshness of opera incongruously clashing with working-class characters calling each other twats and telling their enemies to "fuck off already". Plus, as someone from South Wales, I got a kick out of hearing my home town of Pontypridd mentioned in an opera staged in Islington.

The plot finds lonely sadsack Nicky (David Powton) admiring cafe owner Adira (Alys Roberts) from afar. He wishes he cuold work up the courage to ask her out, only for quack salesman Dr Dulcamara (Matthew Kellett) to arrive offering a selection of love potions. Nicky enthusiastically purchases them, only for his romantic rival, soldier Brandon (Themba Mvula) to gazump him with a marriage proposal.

Matthew Kellett and Alys Roberts
None of this is taken particularly seriously, with the show establishing a light-hearted, gently self-satirising tone early on and sticking with it. But, in an impressive feat of casting and performance, everyone is funny. There are moments where most of the cast is on stage, each providing enough entertainment to carry a show on their own. You don't know where to look for fear of missing out.

I hesitate to name many highlights because I enjoyed the whole damn thing. I'm smiling now when I think of Alys Roberts' trying to work out what that awful stink in her cafe is, or when Caroline Taylor suddenly becomes infatuated with Nicky, David Powton enthusiastically spraying himself down with piss, or pretty much every moment that Themba Mvula is strutting about the stage,

But, even within all this, Matthew Kellett's Dr Dulcamara crushes it. He gets the showiest songs, with his salesman's patter mapping perfectly onto Donizetti's music. He gets to subtly break the fourth wall, both singing to Nicky about how amazing his products are while confiding in us how incredibly stupid he thinks these people are. He's far from a villain though, eventually proving to be as gullible and dim-wittted as his various customers.

They're ably supported by careful direction, a fine musical score and a set that's evocative of Barry Island without getting in the way of the performances. I don't have a great deal more to say about The Elixir of Love without getting into hyperbole. It's the opera I'd take someone sceptical about opera to - and it singlehandedly eradicated my Monday blues.

The Elixir of Love is at the King's Head Theatre until 26 October. Tickets here.

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